Carolina: Cruising Past 70

Friday, January 14, 2022

TRAVEL AWAITS: Small Is Beautiful Connecticut Road Trip

                   


                      This article first appeared in Travel Awaits in August 2020

Our RV adventures often showed us there’s truth to the saying “small is beautiful.” Our road trip working our way from New York to Massachusetts through Connecticut, the third smallest state in the US, was no different. It’s interesting to note that the state is the 29th most populous state, making it the fourth-most densely populated of the 50 states.

In just two nights of camping, we discovered seven landmarks in its three largest cities: Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford.  The route I describe below treated us to two renowned authors’ houses, the campus of an Ivy League school, a prestigious financial services institution, and the best of it all: three uniquely different museums.

Bridgeport

 PHOTO CREDIT: AUBREY GOUGH / SHUTTERSTOCK

Bridgeport is only an hour and 45 minutes from New York City. With a population of almost 150,000, it is actually the largest city in Connecticut. Also a coastal city like New Haven, Bridgeport is at the center of the state’s significant maritime industry. But it was the Barnum Museum that made us stop here.

It’s a museum for the young and the young at heart like us. As the main authority on P.T. Barnum (1810-1891), the museum takes care of about 60,000 items related to the life and work of this showman, businessman, and founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Barnum himself conceived of the building of the museum. In fact, he approved the detailed plans just weeks before he died. With funds he left behind, it opened two years later and has become a national treasure that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

New Haven

New Haven is only about 30 minutes from Bridgeport and 40 minutes from Hartford, the state capital to the northeast. It’s the second-largest city at almost 130,000 in population. It’s also at the center of the state’s big maritime industry. But my husband was eager to visit two other places close to his heart.


The Knights of Columbus Museum was the second unique museum on our itinerary. The growth of industry and finance created a need for raising the quality of life for the poor. In 1882, when Fr. Michael McGiveny (who is currently up for sainthood at the Vatican) saw the need for an organization that could partner with parishes to help poor immigrant families, he founded the Knights of Columbus, now the largest fraternal service organization in the Catholic Church. It has today about two million members in 15,000 councils worldwide. My husband is a member in Mesa, Arizona.


New Haven is also home to the beautiful campus of Yale University, an Ivy League school. My husband was offered a full scholarship there but chose to accept the one offered by Oberlin College near Cleveland, Ohio, instead. We found the Yale campus, especially the old district, so charming. No doubt he would have enjoyed Yale at least as much as Oberlin, if not more. The Yale University Art Gallery is, in fact, the oldest university art museum in the Western Hemisphere. Housed in several buildings on the campus, it emphasizes Italian paintings, African sculptures, and modern art.

Hartford

The capital of Connecticut and home to over 120,000 residents, Hartford is known as the Insurance Capital of the World. It is where the financial services industry grew to be as important as the state’s maritime industry. These two industries actually combine to give the state the highest per capita income, human development index, and median household income in the entire U.S. That is quite an achievement for such a small piece of land!


One of the financial services industry’s most distinctive landmarks is the 34-story Travelers Tower in downtown Hartford. When it was constructed in 1919, it was the seventh-tallest building in the world. Aside from being the headquarters of, Travelers Insurance, one of the biggest insurance companies in the world, the 27th-floor observation deck is where you can get the best aerial view of the city.

Hartford is also a center of excellence in literary works not just in the state but of the country. The lovely Mark Twain House and Museum is quite a place to see. It has been described as “part steamboat, part medieval fortress, and part cuckoo clock.” It is where Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), wrote his most important works between 1884 and 1891: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. However, it was sad to find out that this was also the house where he saw much of his wealth disappear due to bad investments in the printing industry.


It was also amazing that the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and House is just a few yards away from the Mark Twain House, sitting almost right next to it. The landmark novel of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which graphically details the harshest of conditions endured by slaves in America, laying the groundwork for the Civil War. Mark Twain’s work was published 20 years after the Civil War. They may have been almost a generation apart, but they were both addressing the same issue that we are still dealing with today.


Even the recycling industry is benefitting from the innovative spirit in Connecticut. The CRRA — Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority — established the country’s first museum about garbage. It was called the Trash Museum that demonstrated not only what trash accumulation does to the environment but also advocated single-stream recycling — leading the way in this industry. Unfortunately, it closed permanently in June of 2016.

Connecticut’s place in the history of the US is quite secure. It was the fifth of the original 13 states, those visionary colonies that rebelled against the British Empire and succeeded in forming the Union. In fact, Connecticut led all the others in the formulation of a constitution. Its Fundamental Orders was adopted as early as 1639 and heavily influenced the framing of the US Constitution and the development of the federal government. In fact one of Connecticut’s early leaders, Roger Sherman of New Haven, was among its authors.

If you are in New York, Rhode Island, or Massachusetts, consider passing through Connecticut to see for yourself how such a small state is so beautifully successful.

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